Developed countries are falling over each other to legalise marijuana and its sister – industrial hemp. Kenya has a Bill laying eggs in Parliament over legalising the same. While marijuana and hemp are from the same cannabis family, they’re different: weed is a recreational, intoxicating substance, hemp, on the other end of the joint, is a sub-species of the cannabis plant with benefits of industrial proportions.
Marijuana is used for recreation as it has a higher level of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound which leaves smokers feeling like touching the sky. Hemp has lower levels of tetrahydrocannabinol and thus not ideal for altering a person’s mental state via intoxication.
And while marijuana is shorter, hemp has a taller stature, slender-bladed leaves and a more open bud structure and grow in regions that are sunny, cool or temperate.
This is the difference Kenyan laws need to adjust in favour of medicinal marijuana and industrial hemp.
But being part of the cannabis family, growing hemp will see police paying you a courtesy call as they would if they caught you smoking weed! A jail sentence of 10 years also applies if found guilty of possessing either marijuana or hemp as per the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 1994.
Yet, according to UN, more than 50 countries have adopted medicinal cannabis with Canada, Uruguay and 15 US states legaling its recreational use while the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove marijuana as a ‘dangerous drug’ for its ‘medicinal and therapeutic potential’.
However, the UN does not support marijuana use for ‘non-medical and non-scientific purposes.’
So strong is the puff in favour of weed that in 2020, the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya urged Parliament to amend the Narcotics and Psychotropic Control Act (1994) to allow access to medical marijuana.
Industrial hemp, on the other hand, is even more interesting. It has a business high. What with over 100 commercial uses, including for medical conditions like chronic pain, Alzheimer’s and different inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. This explains why there has been a worldwide campaign to legalise it: US, Canada, Israel, Greece, Austria, Bulgaria, Norway, Ireland, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and North Korea have all legalised it.
The next biggest money maker
In Africa, Malawi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda and Ghana have legalised industrial hemp said to be the next biggest money maker while reducing the impact of climate change.
Just so you know, the Farm Bill signed in 2018 by ex-President Donald Trump removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and is now being used in textiles and fabrics. In North Korea, marijuana is illegal but not hemp which is used in making ropes. Hemp is also ideal for making plastics, paper, concrete and other building materials for roofing, flooring, plastering, painting and insulation.
It also makes fibre for vehicle bodies and spare parts, flour and animal feeds. That is not all. Beauty products from hemp include lotions, lip balm, shampoo and conditioners, aromatherapy candles and bath oils. Hemp also makes solar panels, ink, carpets, diapers and shoes.
In medicine, hemp is used in manufacture of drugs to treat arthritis, asthma, cough and warts.
In Canada, hemp is legally grown, imported and exported via Health Canada, the regulatory authority which has seen licensed hemp farmers increase from over 500 in 2018 to over 1000 in 2020. Even Atlas Development which operated at the Nairobi Securities Exchange but was de-listed in 2018 shifted base to Canada where it deals in hemp as Atlas Growers.
Over 131,000 acres in Canada
There are more than 131,000 acres in Canada under hemp, whose oils are extracted alongside hemp protein powders and hemp seeds, which are similar to sunflower seeds.
In China, hemp is roasted for snacks and oil while about 40 per cent is exported as part of the Sh642 billion global industrial hemp market in 2020, according to Verified Market Research, which projects its growth to reach $28 billion (Sh2.9 trillion) by 2028.
Kenyan researchers Gwada Ogot and Simon Mwaura petitioned Parliament to legalise marijuana for its medicinal and not its recreational use without much success in 2017.
“There is no African community that petitioned the Kenyan government to ban cannabis, Ogot told KTN Prime in an interview. “This was foreign based thing.”
Ogot told the Senate that “benefits of this plant will not help Kenya; it will revolutionise it” and further added that “every plant that God has given us should be availed to its people to use.”
Senator Ledama ole Kina publicly supported the Bill arguing its’ benefits outweigh its’ harm and countries are changing tune to legalise it. “If this is good to reduce the pain in cancer patients, why don’t you legalise it?” he posed.
In 2018, Kibra MP Ken Okoth tabled the Marijuana Control Bill, seeking to establish a Marijuana Control Council to regulate its use, register farmers, create awareness and promote its medicinal properties.
Omari Bradley in his legal dissertation “Why Kenya Should Legalise Marijuana “argues that its’ legislation would increase revenue through taxation in an industry with huge growth potential.
Success of the Bill means three statutes would be affected. The revised Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPSA NO. 4 of 1994), the Marijuana Control Act, the Marijuana Control Bill and the Crop Act to accommodate it as a cash crop.
Despite its illegality, weed is a common feature in Kenyan parties, campuses and camp sites.
Israeli weed firm INVESTs Sh40 billion in Uganda
Uganda has licensed two companies to grow marijuana on commercial basis. Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd and Together Pharma, an Israeli company have been given the nod with 13 more companies awaiting approved by the Ministry of Health which allowed cannabis to be used in treating cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis and other neurological conditions.
About 100 other companies have expressed interest after the rules were revised to permit export for medical purposes.
Pharma Ltd and Industrial Hemp, which grow Industrial Hemp in greenhouses are the biggest marijuana producers in Hima, Kasese having invested $360 million (Sh39 billion), according to Nir Sosinsky, the MD of Together Pharma, citing growth markets for medical cannabis products including inflorescence, capsules, oils, cookies as being in Israeli, Germany and Australia.
Recreational marijuana is illegal in Uganda, but industrial hemp is legal and investors seeking to grow or export marijuana under clinical purposes must have a minimum capital of $5 million (Sh500 million), a bank guarantee of USh4 billion, according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor which also includes a tax compliance certificates, valid trading license, audited accounts and evidence of value addition to cannabis as part of the regulations.
Uganda’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 2015 allows for cultivation, production and exportation of medical marijuana after a license is issued by the Ministry of Health.
In April, Ugandan authorities cleared 250kg of marijuana to Tel Aviv, Israel, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paying $375,000 (Sh37.5 million) for dry cannabis flowers besides exporting Cannabinol and Tetrahydrocannabinol for approved Satives drugs in USA, Europe and Canada.
Of interest is that some cannabis seeds are obtained from Kenya for developing commercial strains like Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.